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Edition 13 - September 2020

 
  • Parents call for compassion, understanding and communication
  • No new legislation!  Yet...
  • Up in the air - In the Fire

Parents call for compassion, understanding and communication

 
Last year, ten brave and passionate Queensland parents who have used the early support or child protection system, stepped forward to form the Queensland Parents Advisory Committee (the QPAC), a first of its kind within Australia.
 
Despite COVID’s best efforts to derail their third meeting with Queensland’s Minister for Child Safety and its Director-General, parents demonstrated their ability to adapt in the face of change and pushed forward with an online meeting, showing the strength of their commitment to this process. They spoke eloquently of their concerns and desires for a more inclusive and holistic approach to supporting families, reiterating the importance of amplifying parents' voices throughout the process.  
SOLUTION 1 - AN EMBEDDED, ON-GOING STATEWIDE PARENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE
 
Parents were pleased to hear that both the Minister and the Director-General (D-G), having seen the benefits of including parents voices in the conversation, were committed to embedding the QPAC into the future. They believe that this will help improve parents' relationships with the Department, bridge the gap and remove the "us vs them" mentality
 
"Thank you Minister - you have restored and strengthened our rights and empowered us to stand up and speak out regarding support and change.”
Dee - Parent Leader
 

 
SOLUTION 2 - MANDATORY LEGAL REPRESENTATION
 
"It's hard for any ordinary person to navigate these systems that are tricky and complex and overlap." 
Maddie - Parent Leader
 
Parents consistently identify the complexity of the child protection system's ever-growing legal aspects as one of their main concerns. They are calling on solutions that help improve parents knowledge of their legal rights, provide equitable access to representation, and create a legal system that considers the holistic needs of families.  An organised meeting with legal professionals unfortunately had to be postponed due to COVID, but parents are clear: face-to-face consultations in this area should remain a priority.
"I wanted to join and be part of this committee so that I could be a direct voice to the Department to help them better understand the struggles families endure during departmental intervention.  I believe compassion, understanding and communication between parents and the Department would close the divide.”
Jason – Parent Leader
 
The Director-General (D-G) welcomed these efforts and acknowledged the power and authority the Department has over peoples lives. She agreed with Jason and said that it is the "how we are with each other" that matters most.

 
"If we work together, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Every step forward is a step in the right direction for mothers, fathers and most importantly, our children." Jason.
SOLUTION 3  - SUPPORT ('EARLY INTERVENTION') THAT ADDRESSES CAUSES - HOUSING, HEALTH, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
 
“As more families struggle and become at risk, they need assistance that extends a hand of support... before the risk grows into a reason to remove a child or children from the home. It would be beneficial that the same amount of funding that is used for foster carers and reunification was invested into early support and services that would result in less children being at risk of removal from their families.”
Bney – Parent Leader
 
Early intervention is said to be a priority of the Department, but parents note the discrepancy in funding and resources for early support compared to that allocated to post-removal functions and services. Parents think that more resources are needed earlier, and that they need to be accessible to families who may be afraid to seek support. 
 
"Children are more at risk when parents become reluctant to seek help in fear of a new investigation or intervention. Commonly this fear is based on previous experience." 
Lila – Parent Leader.
 
Parents believe that services that are not linked to the child protection system and that offer safe, early and non-judgmental support is vital. The D-G, while lamenting that demand for support is always going to be greater than the collective capacity to respond, assured parents that they were being heard loud and clear.
SERVICE ACCOUNTABILITY IN REGIONS?

“What measures do you have in place for these services in remote communities? What do you have that can verify … that they are physically doing that service? Services are saying they're coming out but they're not coming.”
Natalie – Parent Leader
 
Parents are also calling for greater service accountability, especially in regional, rural and remote communities where higher rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being removed. Services are already limited in these communities and parents are asking that those that do exist simply do what they say they are doing. A lack of appropriate support once Child Safety steps out is another concern with parents commenting that CSOs often don’t ask what ongoing supports parents feel they need to move forward.

SOLUTION 4 - INTENSIVE TRAUMA INFORMED TRAINING FOR WORKERS
 
"Unexpected loss of jobs, lockdown, homeschooling and restrictions have all played a massive part in shaping 2020 for a lot of families. Support services have closed down… and some mental health clinics have waiting lists so long that even the waiting list has closed.”
Leah – Parent Leader
 
The impacts of COVID, and the trauma this may cause or exacerbate within families is also worrying parents who want to know how the Department will be assessing unacceptable risk within this context, and how it plans to move forward with families already in the system. The D-G noted a rise in notifications and removals over the last 6-8 months due in large part, she said, to increased drug and alcohol use and violence. She agreed that specific measures needed to be taken to ensure this trend doesn't continue. And also noted the importance of being mindful of the balance between over-responding and meeting the needs of children. 
ABOVE: The Hon. Di Farmer and Director-General Deidre Mulkerin - photo credit to the Minister's office. (Note - this pic was taken at the May 2020 QPAC meeting, not at the August one.)
SOLUTION 5 - PAID PARENT ADVOCATES

“Parent advocates are people who've experienced the child safety system as a parent or kinship carer, or as a child.  Having a parent advocate not only benefits the parent and family but also the Department’s workers.”
Bobbi – Parent Leader
 
Evidence shows that the inclusion of Parent Advocates in the Child Safety system improves cooperation between parents and other stakeholders and helps parents feel understood and empowered. Again, parents were encouraged to hear positive responses to this initiative from both the Minister who said parent advocates are absolutely critical, and the D-G who sees the need for parent advocates as a “business as usual" response. 

Thoughts to finish the meeting

It’s a brave and difficult thing to turn something painful into something productive. To reflect, learn, grow, stand and speak out for yourself and others. But the parents who sit on this committee have done just that. They have embraced every opportunity that has come their way whether it’s participating in Human Rights Training, attending the National Child Protection Conference, presenting to a room full of lawyers, or hosting their own morning teas that encourage other parents to come forward and share their experiences.
 
Parent leaders are strong and passionate advocates for children and families, and they are excited to know that the Department is committed to working constructively into the future, and are valuing the unique perspective they give. We see big things ahead!
 
“We all hope we can keep this going - we're onto a good thing.”
Krystal – Parent Leader

 
“You are the most courageous and phenomenal people. You have had a big impact on me - I will be a better person for having met you all and seeing how hard you have fought to get to this point. You are going to make a difference.”
Minister Di Farmer

No new legislation!  Yet...

Last edition we mentioned a Parliamentary Committee was looking at changing legislation (via an 'Amendment Bill') to "routinely and genuinely" consider adoption as a suitable permanency option in the Queensland child protection system.

We're pleased to say, this change - in the form proposed - is not happening...Yet... But after the Queensland State Election (on 31 October 2020)... who knows.
 

Where did this idea come from?

It came as a recommendation in one of this year's reports into the tragic death of Mason Jet Lee in 2016. *We bow in silence to honour Mason, as well as the other young lives lost because we as a community failed*

"Although the issue of adoption was not explored..." the Coroner's Court recommended the government review its permanency policies and procedures, and consider amending the Adoption Act.
The Coroner's Court report stated "the handling of Mason’s case was a failure in nearly every possible way by the relevant employees of the department to comply with their statutory obligations, their manual, their policies and procedures...".

So, most of us wondered, why talk about adoption in the recommendations? It was not, and could not have been, a factor in this circumstance.

The Department noted this in their submission, stating the Coroner's Court "should not comment on adoption of children as it was not an issue to be explored at this inquest and was not in fact explored at the inquest". However the Deputy Coroner disagreed.

When Inquiry reports are published, the government-of-the-day must respond. That is, they make a choice to accept or reject any or all of the recommendations. In this case, they agreed with all recommendations, and swiftly drafted changes to legislation (via an 'Amendment Bill').

It seems that once any recommendation is made, there is huge pressure on elected officials to agree with them. Why?

Next step for government was to draft legislation. Luckily, in Australia, all draft legislation is reviewed by a committee made up of Members of Parliament from a cross-section of political parties. And we, as citizens, all have the right to have our say on this by making a submission to the committee. All of us can let them know if we agree, or disagree, and we can lay out our reasons.

What happens next can seem a bit quirky.
For this Amendment Bill, the Committee received 39 submissions from people or organisations giving a view about the adoption amendments (glance at them here if you have time). Ninety percent (90%) of these submissions did not support the Amendment Bill in its entirety. Yet the committee still recommended that the Amendment Bill be passed and move to the next stage.
History and statistics tells us that, most of the time, Parliamentary Committees will do this: they will pass the Government's Bills. Again we politely ask - why?

It leaves you wondering - what's the point of inviting submissions? Sure... it's a 'process of democracy' and we're 'lucky to have it' *sigh*. But is it worth stirring up so much hurt when it feels like our opinion isn't considered?

We're sad about the hurt caused. But we're proud of the time and effort invested and the action taken. We believe in the fight! Let's keep using our voices and having our say because (1) it gets our views on the record - permanently, and (2) researchers and policy-makers do read these past submissions when they consider changes in the future. We know that many difficult social policy conversations get 'simplified' and/or 'politicised'. That's why it's so important for parents voices to be there. Let's keep up the agitation and let's keep suggesting alternatives. Let's keep engaging in respectful debates: using intelligence, using evidence, and using voices of experience!

Time was on our side this time. The up-coming state election has paused this legislative change. For now...
 

What did some parents say?


Parent Leadership Training Institute graduate Leanne Claussen, CEO of Parents on a Mission made a submission to the Parliamentary Committee into the proposed permanency changes. In part she said "The death of any child is a tragedy. Parents on a Mission recognises that there are some Parents in our society that harm their children or knowingly put their children at risk of harm. Parents on a Mission also recognises that many Parents just need help. Parents who come into contact with the Child Protection system should not all be painted with the same brush. We have not all abused our children. There are many reasons children are removed from their Parents care, including domestic violence, neglect, drug abuse, mental illness etc." 

FIN Townsville also spoke up, their submission concluded with: "In the view of FIN Townsville, a blanket recommendation for adoption of children taken into care under the age of three is completely inappropriate... To present adoption as the solution to prevent further deaths is rather missing the point if Child Safety continues to ignore children in need and not do a good enough job... FIN Townsville has grave concern that enacting this Amendment Bill will lead to less effort being invested into family support and a concomitant premature focus on permanency options...".

High-five to that Townsville! Early and flexible support is what's needed. Parents know that: and the evidence backs us up. Parents ARE leaders!

FIN Southeast Queensland sent the Parliamentary Committee the quotes and experiences of eight parents. To keep us inspired, Equal Chance will publish more of these over the coming months. Here's the first:

I’ve been made aware of these proposals and they have utterly devastated me. I don’t even know where to start… Three of my babies aren’t coming home because I couldn’t get them all ready to come back within two years. This would have meant we lived in overcrowding with 12 people in our tiny house and that kids were coming home not toilet trained and not school ready, even though they’ve been in care three years. Which would have led to me potentially having a mental breakdown, the end of my marriage and all the kids including my new baby going into care anyway. So, should these babies who love me and want to come home be adopted out? And what - I never see them again? This is just a small amount of what I feel... It shouldn’t be so black and white. They’re not taking individual circumstances into account and all they care about is covering their own backs and saving money." Parent Leader (2020)

'Up in the air - In the Fire'


"This image is a direct statement in response to my experiencing my newborn grandson being ‘up in the air’ as there was no settled placement for him, for the years that he was in Child Protection. We were all grieving, the extended family and the foster carer. It felt as if we were in a fire."

Image and description provided by Deb - Grandmother, kinship carer and member of FIN.


We hold 'tea time' for parents to share their experiences with other parents who have walked along the same path.

Email us at info@finseq.org.au find out the details of our next catch-up!
 
The Family Inclusion Network SEQ
07 3013 6030
info@finseq.org.au
facebook.com/finseq
finseq.org.au
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Copyright © 2020 Family Inclusion Network SEQ, All rights reserved.


The Family Inclusion Network SEQ
07 3013 6030
facebook.com/finseq
finseq.org.au

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